“The Bette Davis Club” is a larger than life comedy, structured around a chaotic road-trip in a classic 1938 MG that careens from Malibu to Manhattan by way of Chicago.
Margo Just, the main character, is a single woman in her fifties whose life is slowly falling apart. She’s been a fully paid-up member of the Bette Davis Club for many years (I’m not going to spoil things by telling you what that means but I’m sure most of you will have met a member or two) and can’t find a way to move on.
A New Yorker from the age of nineteen, Margo attends her niece’s wedding in her childhood home inMalibu more for the free accommodation, food and drink than out of any sense of family connection.
When the bride jilts the groom and makes a run for it, Margo’s financially straitened circumstances, combined with the impact of the several vodka martinis and the promise of the use of her dead father’s classic little red sports car, lead to her accept a mission from her half-sister bring the runaway bride home. Ony after she accepts the mission does she discover that the jilted groom will be her driver and that her sister is as concerned to retrieve some things the bride took with her as she is to have her daughter return.
What follows is a riotous journey with some classic scenes, including a crazed attack on the highway and Margo, who is straight, doing the samba in a lesbian dance competition.
As a backdrop to all this, we learn Margo’s backstory and how she came to join the Betty Davis Club. It’s the backstory that adds emotional weight to what could have been just another light comedy. When we finally see Margo in her entirety, we meet a woman on the cusp of confronting who she is and what she’s going to do with the rest of her life.
I’d expected the “The Bette Davis Club” to be a fast fun read. It met those expectations and then exceeded them by constantly surprising me and engaging me more and more deeply with Margo’s story.
Sadly, there are no more books by Jane Lotter. She self-published “The Bette Davis Club” just before she died of cancer. She then wrote her own obituary. You can read it here.
It seems to me that Jane Lotter was an extraordinary woman who gifted us with one extraordinary book.